Five famous black paintings

Feast your eyes on these famous black paintings to see how black is one of the most powerful hues you can use in your palette.

1. Cave painting
2. Juan Sánchez Cotán’s Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber (1600)
3. Francisco Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son (c. 1819-1823)
4. Édouard Manet’s Dead Toreador (1864)
5. Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square on a White Ground (1915)

Cave painting

The Lascaux caves in southern France feature wall paintings made during the Upper Palaeolithic Period, approximately 17,300 years ago. Shown here is an image of aurochs (an extinct type of wild cattle), horses and deer. Paint was applied by blowing through a tube, using brushes made from animal hair, or with the fingers and other tools.

Lascaux cave painting
Lascaux cave painting. Image source Wikipedia

Juan Sánchez Cotán (1561-1627)

Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber, 1600

Oil on canvas, 69cm x 85cm. San Diego Museum of Art

The Baroque painter Cotán was a forerunner of the genre of Spanish still life painting also known as bodegones. Cotán creates geometric arrangements of fruit and vegetables that are set in bright sunlight against an impenetrable black background. His paintings have a powerful realism, through Cotán’s meticulous attention to everyday forms and details.

Juan Sánchez Cotán - Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber - circa 1600
Juan Sánchez Cotán [public domain], Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber

Francisco Goya (1746-1828)

Saturn Devouring His Son, c. 1819-1823

Oil mural transferred to canvas, 143cm x 81cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid

In later life Goya took a house outside Madrid, painting 14 large images directly onto the walls which have become known as the Black Paintings for their sombre palette and dark, haunting themes. Saturn Devouring His Son was originally in the dining room. All the paintings have since been transferred to canvas and are now on display in the Prado, Madrid.

Francisco de Goya, Saturno devorando a su hijo (1819-1823)
Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son

Edouard Manet (1832-1883)

Dead Toreador, 1864

Oil on canvas, 75.9 x 153.3 cm. Widener Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Associated with Impressionism and often working with its brightly coloured palette, Manet was also fascinated with the Spanish master Velazquez. Considered a forerunner of Modernism, The Dead Toreador reflects Manet’s interest in Velasquez with its subject and sombre palette of umbers and blacks.

Edouard Manet, Dead Toreador
Edouard Manet (French, 1832 – 1883), The Dead Toreador, probably 1864, oil on canvas, Widener Collection

Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935)

Black Square on a White Ground, 1915
Oil on canvas, 106 x 106 cm. Russian Museum, St Petersburg

A black square placed against the sun first appeared in Malevich’s stage designs for the 1913 Futurist opera, Victory over the Sun. He exhibited Black Square as an independent oil painting in the Last Futurist Exhibition in Petrograd in 1915. Malevich took the ideas of Cubism and Futurism and founded the radical, avant-garde art movement Suprematism, of which Black Square is considered a seminal work.

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square on a White Ground
Kazimir Malevich, Black Square on a White Ground

*Lead image: Juan Sánchez Cotán, Quince, Cabbage, Melon, and Cucumber, 1600, oil on canvas, 69 x 85cm, image source Wikipedia